Good morning, everyone, and here we are again, at the Prudential Center for yet another morning game to pander to large groups of disinterested and unruly children. This time the Liberty are taking on the Washington Mystics, and it looks like it's going to be one of those days.
As usual, we left three hours before tip, with the intention of getting to the arena sometime around the opening of the gates. We took the E train from Jamaica Center, as we always do, and traveled through Queens. The trip from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza seemed a little longer than usual, but I didn't think anything of it until the train stopped, the automated voice announced "This is Queens Plaza", and I looked up at red brick wall.
One problem: Queens Plaza is a white-tiled station with two westbound tracks. Uh...
We had been shunted without warning or announcement onto the F line, a line that our conductor was not familiar with. We were rerouted to the proper line, but by then the damage was done, and we were a good half hour later than we had planned to be- today, the one day that I wanted to be early because of Nadirah.
Look, we all have our players who we love for less than rational reasons. Let me have my moment.
I do not know what game official #55 is watching, but I don't think it's this one. We've been getting beat up without too many calls, though the situation has improved in the second quarter. Alex Montgomery's 13 second-quarter points lead the way for New York. Crystal Langhorne's looked tired and pained but still leads the Mystics with 10. We have to get to the line somehow, even if it means sacrificing a virgin.
And I don't know how the virgin was sacrificed, but we got to the line in the fourth, and I am exceedingly grateful. Of course, the one game I needed to be quick and painless was the game where the officiating crew had to dither over several calls. (If the gods of transit are willing, you'll understand why I was in such a hurry.)
I would greatly appreciate if Matee Ajavon would not attempt to kick our dog. I would also appreciate if Monique Currie would not attempt to trip our dog. And whoever that was that tried to knock over Maddie's beach chair needs to have their own chair overturned. Stay classy, Mystics.
I like the way Emma Meesseman goes after boards. She still seems to be a little leery of contact, but much less so than the average European forward, especially at her age. I don't know if she's ready to run with the big dogs yet, but she's brilliant as part of the bench gang. (Which, WNBAlien is correct: that group of rookies needs a catchy nickname.) Tayler Hill looked the most unready of the group- that step on the sideline was absolutely killer when she drained the three that had to be called off. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was ferocious, both in good ways (on the boards, slashing in the lane) and in bad ways (that mind-numbingly dumb foul when Pondexter hit the three, even if it turned out not to be relevant because she missed the free throw and then we missed the shot on the offensive rebound, ugh). I understand what Thibault meant when he worried about the young players picking up bad habits from the veterans- she looks like she's been taking advice from Snow and Currie as to how to comport herself on the floor. Those are not the players I'd choose to give decorum lessons. Nadirah McKenith looked very solid when she was in- got a bit flustered when she had Cappie Pondexter dogging her steps, but name me a rookie who wouldn't be. She held her own, and I tried not to be happy about it. There was one drive where I thought she was going to replicate the Creighton shot, but she passed off to Langhorne for a basket. Kia Vaughn seemed irked at the existence of her former team- she didn't get caught on the illegal screen when Leilani Mitchell hit the deck, but when it was Pondexter, the foul got called. Everyone, act surprised that there are different rules for stars and bench players. I think she was working her jumper more than usual, but I'm not sure.
Theory: Washington's rookies, especially McKenith, are developing well because they're among their peers instead of being thrown in with the veterans. Corollary: McKenith's acclimation has been especially good because she's among her classmates instead of having to worry about veterans questioning her authority as point guard on the floor.
I'm surprised that Monique Currie and Plenette Pierson didn't drop the gloves by the end of the first half. Currie knocked Pierson down twice; the first time, Pierson was holding her left knee, and we were all afraid she was down for the count. Currie spent a lot of time barking at the refs for imagined indignities, but really, she should have spent the entire game in foul trouble. Matee Ajavon got Alex Montgomery in the face twice and induced a lot of jump balls. We kept leaving her entirely too open for my comfort, but she missed most of her open shots. She's got quick hands, though. I'll give her that. Michelle Snow spent a lot of time arguing with the refs, but she does have a pretty outside shot. She had that falling a lot today. She reached over players for a lot of her rebounds. Ivory Latta was content to shoot deep threes. Like, ridiculously deep threes. Ivory, you are adorable and highly caffeinated, but you are not Tina Thompson. I'm really not sure how well she meshed with her teammates, especially the primary unit. Maybe that's part of the problem, at least in their losses. Crystal Langhorne looked like her back was bothering her in the first half, but that didn't stop her from getting to the rim, or beating everyone and their mother for rebounds, or putting up pretty midrange jumpers, or just generally being awesome because she is Crystal Langhorne and that's how she rolls.
(Yes, I like Langhorne. Yes, this might be bias on my part. No, I don't care.)
Toni Young looked very athletic and very out of her depth. Stupid fouls and missed shots that she should be hitting as a forward on the professional level. She didn't have it today. Chucky Jeffery got a very brief appearance in order to give Cappie Pondexter some rest at the end of the third quarter, but I don't think she was actually being used as a player so much as a placeholder. Kelsey Bone was physical, but she seems to have been more tentative lately. This is the second game in a row where she's backed out and passed the ball back out instead of going up strong with it. She's a big girl- she has to go up without fear. Her touch around the basket is improving, though. Leilani Mitchell got good minutes and hit a huge three at the end of the shot clock to fire the team up. But it's not a good sign for the Liberty (or perhaps it's a good sign for the Mystics) that McKenith was with her step for step. Alex Montgomery caught fire in the second quarter with 13 points, and got going again in the fourth. She was always in the middle of the scrum, and she paid for it, taking two separate hits to the face. That's the version of Alex Montgomery who wowed us in the preseason, and the one that we need to step up if we really do want to make the playoffs. (Which we may not. But given that this is Bill Laimbeer, he probably would prefer to make the playoffs and then deal for a lottery pick. He's a competitive mother- shoutymouth!)
I think Kamiko Williams is starting for her defense and rebounding. I'm okay with that, except that this is not 1997 and you can't start a two-guard at small forward anymore, no matter how defensive-minded she is and no matter how well she rebounds. She went well after the offensive boards, and made offense for herself off o-boards and fast breaks- her interception early on was a thing of beauty. Katie Smith looked very done on defense, which is a bit of a problem when that's her primary purpose these days, but the swooping twisting lay-up she hit late in the game was beautiful. I just didn't think Monique Currie was so well known for her speed that she could be consistently a step ahead of Katie. Cappie Pondexter had issues with her handle today- she kept getting trapped in corners and on the sideline by the Mystic defense. But she hit the fadeaways when it counted, and I commend her for keeping it together when she got hit hard by Ruffin-Pratt on the three-pointer. And in the fourth quarter, she started getting the fouls when she was attacking the basket, and that swing in the free throw shooting was enough to decide the game. Plenette Pierson was solid, always moving, even when that direction was downward (she took a few spills, and not just the ones that Currie provided for her). Her passing in the post was phenomenal- more than anyone else, she made the extra pass on the inside. Kara Braxton's defense was so-so, but we asked her to be a big target in the middle, and she hit all her shots. I could have done without the fumbling, but if that was the price of getting solid offense and decent boxing out from her, I can accept that.
The defense clamped down big time to close out the game. That's where having the baby Mystics out there didn't help Washington- at least for now. But maybe Thibault wasn't thinking about winning that game so much as he was thinking about winning one three years down the road, and maybe three years down the road the rookies don't allow a shot clock violation to happen twice, and maybe Tayler Hill remembers the dimensions of the court.
The officiating had a lot of us quite irked, especially in the first half where there were hits that we felt were highly illegal. And Brewton, Smith, and Mauer seemed to default to jump ball at every opportunity, including one procedural one when they weren't sure if the ball went off Montgomery or Currie. We got away with a few too. That I'll grant. And I think Laimbeer letting the officials know how displeased he was turned the tide.
LOL of the game: in the fourth quarter, Ivory Latta was stretching out and bopping along to the music. Mike Thibault looked at her, and though I didn't hear, I saw him say a word that looked suspiciously like "no". She stopped. Aww, Mike, don't you realize that she can't help it? Her blood flows with Pixie Stix and Red Bull.
Having two Camp Days diluted the product. Way too many large swathes of empty seats; if there had only been one, the place would have been packed out. And I'm really not sure what it says about the future of our society if the kids from the Ivy League Day Camp are the ones yelling every sports term in the book except the ones that pertain to basketball. I think they were just being punks, but still. Sheesh.
Air Maddie was a bit over the top today, but I suppose Maddie was in a bad mood after the Mystics treated him like a dog.
This was the fourth quarter we needed after all those horrible third quarters we've been having. Maybe this turns it around, or maybe this is the aberration. I don't know. Maybe we're just powerwalking on the treadmill of mediocrity. I don't know.